Chinese authorities enacted strong security measures in several cities on Sunday following an online call for a revolution apparently modeled after pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East.
Only a few protesters responded to the call for a “Jasmine Revolution,” the same name given to the Tunisian freedom movement which sparked protests in Egypt and other Arab states, eyewitnesses said.
Authorities detained an undetermined number of activists, disrupted text messaging services, and censored Internet postings about the protest call, in an apparent show of force.
The largest gathering was reported in Beijing, where several hundred people—
including protesters, plainclothes policemen, reporters, and onlookers—
converged in front of the McDonald’s outlet on the landmark Wangfujing shopping street.
One source at the scene said there were more plainclothes public security officers than civilians.
“By the McDonald’s on Wangfujing, there were many people, [mostly] plainclothes policemen. And around the restaurant and in the building, there were cars with surveillance equipment,” the source said.
People gathered around 2:00 p.m., and 10 minutes later two people were led away by policemen. Later a man holding white flowers was also escorted away.
By 3:00 p.m., most of the crowd had dispersed.
The source of the campaign was unknown, but a notice for the protests was first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language website Boxun.com earlier in the week.
The notice called for protesters to meet in 13 cities across China for a Jasmine Revolution, saying anyone with an interest for the future of the country should join the movement.
“Whether you are the parent of a tainted-milk baby, a victim of a forced eviction, a laid-off worker, a petitioner, a Charter 08 signer, a Falun Gong practitioner, a Chinese Communist Party member, a Democracy Party supporter, someone dissatisfied with the injustice in Chinese society, or even just a spectator, at this moment, we are all Chinese," the unsigned notice said.
"We must take responsibility for our future and for our children’s future," it continued.
Boxun.com reported being attacked on Saturday and was still inaccessible a day later. The site released a statement saying it could not verify the origin of the campaign.
The terms “jasmine” and “revolution” have been blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s largest micro-blogging site.
Censors have also limited media reports about the recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, and Libya.
In Tiananmen Square, the site of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989, security was stepped up, with police conducting security checks on people around the area.
Nearby, in front of the Ministry of Public Security, a dozen armored police vehicles were on standby.
One witness surnamed Li said, “In front of the Ministry of Public Security I saw more than ten armored buses."
“One of them could carry at least 55 people, so with ten of them there would be at least 500, and along with the other vehicles there would be at least 600. Some of the vehicles didn’t have their curtains closed and I could see shields and riot helmets.”
In Shanghai, a large number of public security officers were on alert near the People’s Square. When they forcibly led away three people, a scuffle broke out.
In Guangzhou, a few participants went to the People’s Park, where public security officers had been on alert since the morning.
In Hong Kong, 20 protesters from the League of Social Democrats gathered and threw paper folded in the shape of jasmine flowers at the mainland’s liaison office.
Human rights groups said several activists were detained, harassed, or missing in the run-up to the protests.
Beijing human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong’s wife Jin Bianling told RFA that her husband was taken away by public security officers on Sunday.
“Yesterday between 3:40 and 4:00 p.m. from the balcony, his mother saw policemen come into the courtyard. When Jiang Tianyong received a phone call he went downstairs … and then they stuffed Jiang Tianyong into the car,” she said.
Guangzhou human rights lawyer Liu Shihui said he was attacked by several men as he was leaving his house. He was sent to the hospital for treatment.
Another rights activist, Ma Xiaoming, warned that the situation was fragile.
“The current contradictions in society are very sharp. It only takes a small spark to light a fire."
“The problem [with the protests] is not whether [they are] successful or not, but rather that it is the expression of the people’s will … for a democratic system to replace an autocratic one,” he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service.Translated and written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.